Tinkerbell: Was being happy such a terrible fate?
Regina: Yes, yes it was. You said I could let go of the anger that was weighing me down. And suddenly I just felt that without it I would just–float away.
For those just joining the conversation, I love Once Upon a Time. It can be campy, but it says far more in its dialogue and character development than most shows that fall under its genre.
This particular scene from the beginning of the third season is my favorite. The writer’s nailed why people often times cannot let go of their anger.
Regina: That anger was all I had. What would I be without it?
The first time I heard that line I understood it. It resonated with me. At the time Zelena had basically just told me he wanted me to kill myself, and, yeah, that made me angry. So did all the years of abuse from him and from my parents and from the pastors in the URC. (Yes, I’m naming names now. I’m not saying ‘bring it,” but I refuse to allow my fear to protect them anymore.)
I also understood it from Regina’s history. When Tink came to her and showed her she could be happy, Regina had no love. It’s a complicated, painful tale so if you want to know, you’ll have to catch up on the show, but, basically, it had gotten so bad that Regina had just tried to commit suicide. She met Tinkerbell when the fairy saved her.
I know that feeling. If we have no love in our lives, our heart is empty. It has to be filled with something. The things that replace love are fear and anger, both off which controlled Regina at the time.
Tinkerbell: (In answer to Regina’s question) Happy.
For most victims of abuse, they haven’t known a lot of love. When I’ve gone to support groups at the abused women’s center, and spoken with women at my church who are/were in abusive marriages, there seems to be one reigning truth, we all come not only from abusive relationships, but abusive families. The majority of women were not just abused by their husband or boyfriend, they were also abused by their parents and other members of their family during their childhood. When they leave their abuser, their parents often turn on them, especially if they were married to the abuser.
So, abuse victims often have no love in their lives at all. In fact, it’s honestly a miracle any of these people are alive, considering what they’ve suffered.
Then, if all that wasn’t enough, we get divorced. Many abusers do what Zelena did and work only one job making as little as possible so they can claim they simply can’t afford child support and alimony, or, in the vast majority of cases, they simply quit their jobs and start working under the table or live off their parents (who ALWAYS support them).
In all honesty, we don’t have time to be weak, or to appear weak. The moment we look weak, the abuser will attack. It’s not something they will give up only because we are divorced. Abusing their chosen victim is like a drug to them.
When we face giving up our anger, we are terrified that we will seem weak to the people whose greatest desire is to see us utterly destroyed.
You can see why it’s far more complicated to give up anger than platitudes claim.
The other problem is, Regina was right. Without that anger, you’ll feel as if you are floating away. The anger was our anchor for so long, it was our strength, it was all we had. And when it is gone, honestly, there is no purpose to anything.
My goal for so long, as I said before, was to basically do everything to prove my abusers wrong, to show them how horrible they were to abuse me. After you get rid of that, what fills its place?
It is not glib, I hope, for me to quote Scripture, because this is important.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rom 15:13
When the anger and bitterness is gone, then we can be filled with the things God wants for us. His Word is replete with lists of blessings He wants to give us. (Unfortunately, these aren’t material, which can cause those of us impoverished by our spouse’s abuse more problems in our walk, but that’s a blog entry for another time.)
I think it’s important for us to understand just how angry God is about the abuse. It’s easy to forget when our pastors, who aren’t necessarily bad people, make restoration of relationships sound so easy and formulaic. There is no restoration of an abusive relationship, and God is aware of that.
Later this week I will post more about the real reason marriage is important to God, but for the purpose of this post I’d like people to understand that God hates abuse. He is not the person who sent it. Abuse only comes from Satan, and abusers have, from what I’ve seen of every single one of the, completely given themselves over to him.
So, where does that leave us as those who were subjected to this evil? What does God want us to do?
First, God doesn’t want us to put on a happy face and pretend everything’s fine. I am guilty of this every Sunday, and often on social media where I know Christians are watching. Because it has been my experience that most people can’t take the reality of what I have suffered.
Second, God wants us to grieve. Anyone who says you can’t, is not your friend, and they’re not God’s friend either. Grief is not a sin. It is a necessary part of healing.
Third, remember the abuser(s) is in the hands of God and there is no more terrifying place to be. He will deal with them. And I truly hope that doesn’t sound glib because, honestly, it won’t look as if He’s doing much to deal with them. They will win, and we will lose…A. LOT. They will win in court, they will win in their family and ours, their victims will be destitute and spend most of their time worrying about how they are going to pay their rent, and whether or not they will have any place to live. This is because God doesn’t work like the prosperity gospel people claim. If He did, Hugh Heffner would be in a lot of pain, if he was even still living.
Fourth, and boy this won’t sound possible after the third point, as Regina said, “Pick hope over anger.” Interestingly, it is far easier for me to hear those words from Regina that some nice Christian person who has never had to worry about whether or not they will be homeless with five children. And that’s because she knows exactly where anger leads. The writers have conveyed that point incredibly well and continue to make it season after season. Anger leads to the destruction of even those we say we love. To exact her revenge, Regina has to kill the person she loves the most. And she does so. Am I saying that if we don’t give up our anger we’ll kill someone? No. I don’t think we will at all. But what about our children’s spirits? What about their future? If we pick anger, if we allow it to become our master, our children are the ones who will suffer. And haven’t they already suffered enough?
Pick hope over anger. If we don’t, the pattern will repeat itself in our children’s lives and the destruction the abusers desired will end up being perpetuated by our own actions. Revenge is simply not worth it.
It is a process. It is a daily, honestly, minute-by-minute decision. For two seasons after this scene we watch Regina struggle with the choice. But she continues to choose hope. It took until the end of the fourth season for her to finally say, “I’m so tired of standing in the way of my own happiness, and I’m not going to do it anymore.” But she did it, and if we make the decision for hope, so will we.